In his 1977 address to the Israeli Knesset, the late President Anwar Sadat of Egypt mentioned Mohandas K. Gandhi, the great Indian leader about whom a film was just released. It is a good film, maybe even a great film, because it illustrates the strategy by which Gandhi liberated India and by which, incidentally, Sadat forced Israel to make peace with Egypt. You can only hope King Hussein of Jordan sees the film.
There were, of course, vast differences between Sadat and Gandhi, as there are between Egypt and India. But as the Gandhi film makes clear, one way to deal with an adversary is to make use of the adversary's own institutions. In Gandhi's case, he used the British press, the British courts and the British sense of fair play to help win Indian independence from Britain. In this sense, Gandhi's victory was as much British as it was Indian.
Sadat did a similar thing in his historic and surprising trip to Israel. He recognized that Israel is above all a democracy, that it is populated by essentially decent people and that its national ethic is both humanitarian and enlightened. When he went to Jerusalem, he spoke not to Menachem Begin nor to his foreign minister, but to the Israeli parliament and through it to the Israeli people.
Sadat's speech reminded the Israelis of the sort of people they are. He told them they were an occupying power (the West Bank, Sinai, Gaza), and they did not want to be that. He told them they had been in a perpetual state of war, and they did not want that, either. He appealed to the Israeli sense of justice, knowing Israel had one, and he reminded them that the Palestinians, too, had a cause--a cause as just as their own:
"In all sincerity I tell you that there can be no peace without the Palestinians. It is a grave error of unpredictable consequences to overlook or brush aside this cause."
In his speech, Sadat conceded nothing--unless it was the folly of everlasting war--while he called upon the nation to live up to its heritage. His speech put Begin on the spot and led to Camp David, where Israel grudgingly returned the Sinai in exchange for peace.
A lot has changed in the Middle East since Sadat's speech, but not the validity of the Palestinian cause nor the qualities of Israel. At the moment, for instance, Israel is undertaking a painful and soul-searching investigation of its conduct regarding the Beirut massacres. By any standard, it is an extraordinary and to some extent perilous undertaking--the sort of thing nations are forced to do after they lose a war, not after they win one.
Hussein, though, apparently sees none of this. Instead of recognizing that Israeli institutions can be used for his benefit, he has characteristically embarked on what seems to be an endless series of private meetings--with the White House, with the PLO, with other Arab heads of state and, for all we know, once again secretly with some Israelis. The man is a study in caution, an incrementalist, who acts as if time were on his side when manifestly it is not. With every passing day, the West Bank becomes increasingly a part of Israel proper.
It is folly to think that the Middle East will ever see another Sadat, just as India probably has had its only Gandhi. But while the men are gone, the lessons they taught remain. At the moment, at least, Hussein is ignoring them, failing to deal with Israel openly, refusing to take advantage of the country's institutions: its free press, its political parties, its parliament, its robust political life. Instead, he deals with the country as if it and Menachem Begin were the same.
The genius of Sadat was that he knew better. He understood the utility of the symbolic act--the flight to Jerusalem--just as he understood the nature of his Israeli adversaries. Hussein, on the other hand, understands only what he could lose. He says he wants peace, but he ventures nothing, gaining, of course, nothing in return.
In the palace in Amman, I am told, they still occasionally show "Lawrence of Arabia." It's time they changed the film. "Lawrence" is about the past. "Gandhi" is about the future.